FCC FOIA denial rates higher than CIA for ‘records not reasonably described’

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The FCC’s own Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reports suggests that the agency is actually more transparent than the federal government average, putting the agency at odds with numbers recently revealed by Florida House Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.

The congressman revealed during a March House Appropriations subcommittee hearing that his office had found the FCC was more secretive than the CIA when it came to the percentage rate of FOIA request denials during 2010. But the FCC’s 2010 report said the agency denied only 15 full requests (2.5 percent) based on exemptions, out of the total 598 FOIA requests processed that year. The federal government average for denials of full requests for 2010 was 5 percent.

However, according to a memo from Diaz-Balart’s office obtained by The Daily Caller, full denials based on exemptions only accounts for part of the picture.

In addition to partial denials, which could also be counted as partial grants, and full denials based on exemptions, FOIA requests may be denied for nine reasons other than exemptions: no records, all records referred to another component or agency, request withdrawn, fee-related reason, records not reasonably described, improper FOIA request for other reason, not agency record, duplicate request and “other.”

When these numbers are included in the total of FOIA denials for 2010, according to Diaz-Balart’s office’s methodology for calculating percentage of denials, the FCC denied a total of 288 out of 593 requests processed, or 48.6 percent.

During that specific House subcommittee hearing, the congressman had taken issue with the ambiguity of the term “records not reasonably described.”

In 2010, 98 FOIA requests (or 16.4 percent) were denied by the FCC because the records were not reasonably described. The federal government average in 2010 for denials of requests because records were not reasonably described was one percent, according to a Justice Department report.

The CIA, by comparison, denied a total of 1685 out of 2,989 requests in 2010, or 56.37 percent of requests when calculated using Diaz-Balart’s methodology. Twenty-two of these requests (0.7 percent) were denied because the records requested were not reasonably described. The NSA denied only 6 out of 1065 requests (0.5 percent) because they were not reasonably described, and DHS denied 306 out of 145,631 requests (0.2 percent).

The FCC’s total denial rate (46.8 percent) in 2011, however, was lower than the CIA’s total denial rate (58.82 percent), according to Diaz-Balart’s office’s methodology. The FCC denied 74 out of 594 requests (12.4 percent) because the records were not reasonably described, and the CIA denied 64 out of 3,164 (2 percent) for the same reason.

House Republicans recently passed legislation to reform the way the regulatory agency conducts its reviews of mergers and transactions between telecommunications and cable companies, which included an amendment by the congressman to make the agency’s FOIA request process more accountable.

“The language of the amendment is not meant to be punitive in any way,” Diaz-Balart told The Daily Caller. “It replicates what a number of other agencies are doing.”

“But either way, there shouldn’t be any problem in calling for more transparency and accountability with a president that has sought to be the most transparent administration in history,” he said.

The White House has openly stated its opposition to the bill, and Senate Democrats are expected to block the it.

The FCC did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment.

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